Unexpected Nairobi

My Tuesday starts when I wake up but it begins when I get to Nairobi’s Central Business District. When you think about CBD your mind immediately fills up with images of the concrete jungle, the hustle and bustle, and even though it’s sometimes called heartbreak city you sometimes come across unexpected kindness.

I’m walking towards Queensway House to get shaved. I have the type of hair that feels like steel wool the bigger it grows. It has been a month since I visited a barbershop, a day longer and someone might snatch me off the streets and keep me in their kitchen to scrub sufurias. The thought alone makes me quicken my steps.

But this is not my biggest worry; I am also wondering what I will write on this blog this week. Especially since I told myself that I will be camping here every Thursday whether it rains or shines. “Habari yako?” I chirp to the guard at Queensway House. “Mzuri,” she replies as I log my name, ID, and phone number in her big worn-out book. “Do you know what I should write for my blog this week?” I ask her after I am done.

“Ati?” She looks at me as if I am from Mars.

“Hakuna,” I say while leaving her desk and entering the lifts.

The doors open on the 5TH floor and I head towards Castro’s Man Cave reception desk. “I have a 12:45 pm appointment with Susan,” I say to a short curvy receptionist dressed in all black with these big brown eyes with such clear whites that swallow me whole.

“Kevin?” she looks up after tapping her laptop.

“Yes,” I groan.

“Sit on that chair.” She points. “She will be with you in a minute,” she adds as I leave her desk and get comfortable on one of the black barber chairs.

Susan shows up almost immediately. She is a short slim girl who understands my head. She doesn’t talk much. She goes about her business with the most delicate fingers and before you know it I’m falling asleep and she is tapping me on the shoulder saying that she is done.

I look in the mirror ‘Hey sir, please respond to my text.’ maybe after the steel wool grows back. I think and grin at the man staring back at me.

“Thank you,” I tell Susan.

“Karibu,” she says while readying her workspace for the next customer and I walk back to the reception desk.

“How much?” I ask the receptionist as our eyes meet.

“Five hundred bob,” she says holding eye contact.

What’s the number plate? I almost fumble lost in her eyes. “What’s the till number?” I say eventually. 

She points to a number on the wall.

“Umepata?” I ask after thumbing my Mpesa pin.

“Eh,” she sings.

“You said your name was Ciiku?” I ask enquiringly. Knowing all too well I haven’t a clue what her name is.

“Ciiku?” she tastes the name in her mouth as if it’s made of chili and creases her forehead. “No, it’s Sarah,” she says with passion.

“Thank you, Sarah,” I say. “You’re welcome,” she says probably wondering who Ciiku is in my life as I leave the premises and get swallowed up again by the hustle and bustle of the city—only to remember that I didn’t ask Sarah what I should write for this blog. Those big brown eyes with the clearest whites looked like they held answers.

It’s about 2:00 pm and my stomach is rumbling. I could climb back up to Sarah and get a blog idea or I could go and have lunch. Obviously, I don’t care about the health of this blog because I find myself walking in the opposite direction towards this Kibanda around The Chancery that I like.

As I approach Fourth Ngong Avenue I see this tall light-skinned woman. She could be thirty-five and she screams top management. She is in an African print top, short black pumps, and these flowing, elegant black-baggy-cotton-trousers with pockets. What catches my eye is how leisurely she is walking, and how magnificently she has sunk her hands into the pockets of her trousers. I keep looking back at this striking tableau, it’s a miracle I don’t trip and fall into a ditch.

I get to my favorite kibanda; Peas, meat, and four chapatis later and I am full to bursting. I pay and decide to walk to Yaya Mall to buy my read of the week. As I approach the mall a small cheerful girl in a red jacket and Cindarella dress runs after me. She presses her face on my hand and the warmth on her cheek is electric. “Uncle ninunulie chai,” she sings. I think of shooing her away but then I get into my pocket and give her a coin.

‘God, I have given to someone in need; remember me in the kingdom of having something to write,’ I say a small prayer just as I enter Bookstop in Yaya.

“Do you have The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle?” I ask a short greying European man in a light orange shirt and avocado green khakis at the counter. “It’s coming this week,” he says without lifting his head from the calculator. “What about The Gift of Fear by Gavin de Becker?” I continue. “It’s coming next week,” he says. His face deep in his calculator.

I have opened my Goodreads App and I could go all day. He lifts his head momentarily and directs me to his assistant. We finally find one of the books I am looking for: A Secret History by Donna Tartt. A book I have been keen on reading ever since I picked up the Goldfinch.

I get back to the counter. “Nice bookmarks,” I say to the greying European man. “Are you selling them?” I ask thinking to myself that they must be free as I pick one from the container holding them.

“Yes. Two hundred bob,” he says to his calculator.

“You’re selling everything huh,” I say disappointed while putting the bookmark back.

“Everything comes at a cost,” he says dismissively without looking up.

“As it should be,” I change gears after remembering I’m in Nairobi.

“Is that so?” he softens. His face still on his calculator.

“Yeah, you have to keep your doors open,” I say.

“I don’t know, things have gotten worse,” he mumbles.

“They get worse before they get better,” I try to encourage him.

“Things are getting from bad to worse,” he says now looking at me. ”So many bills to pay…” he trails off and I feel sadness for him as he picks up A Secret History.

“Do I at least get a bag?” I ask after I pay via Mpesa.

“Of course you do, Kevin,” he says after glancing at the Mpesa message on his phone. He picks up Donna Tartt, and puts her into a brown bag and I see him add a Bookstop bookmark.

“Thank you,” I say. “You know my name and you haven’t told me yours,” I add—turning on the charm. At this rate, I will be asking for his number and taking him out for a coffee.

“Chan,” he says.

“Nice to meet you, Chan,” I say and walk out of the bookstore. Shucks, I should have asked Chan what he thinks I should write for my blog this week. I think but by then I am already in a matatu heading to my house. It hasn’t filled up yet, I could alight and go back to Chan but I find myself sitting back and watching it fill up instead.

I’m in the back seat and the only seat remaining is the one next to me. The last passenger to enter is a girl in a grey hoodie, and black cotton pants though I doubt she has the skill of pocketing magnificently. She sits down, gets into her handbag, and pulls out a novel. What are the chances that a reader sits next to a writer? The universe maneuverers and conspires. Treacherous thing mother nature.

The clock reads 5:00 pm. I would have loved to know what the book she is reading is about but it’s the end of the day and I am all out of talk, I think to myself; pay my fare, lean back, and begin enjoying the ride.

I am stirred from my leisurely posture by a soft finger tapping my arm. “How much did he say the fare was?” the girl in the grey hoodie is asking. I glance at her. She has pushed back her hood to expose freshly done cornrows and a dark brown complexion.

“Forty bob,” I say. “What is the book you’re reading about?” I add and the floodgates of Tujuane open like a burst pipe. We go back and forth about the books we love reading. Cindy as she introduces herself to me is a thriller fanatic and escapes through books. I on the other hand live through reading. Books in themselves make life more navigatable. We exchange numbers and decide we will definitely get together again, to exchange and talk some more about books.

I get to my house and realize that while I was telling Cindy I am a writer and showing her the books I have written I could have also asked her what she thinks I should write for my blog this week. I look at my phone and wonder if I should call her and decide it’s too soon. I open my laptop and write instead about what I should write.

If you enjoyed this, take a minute to like, comment and share. I will be grateful and new readers will be too. Adieu!

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image credit: joseph ndungu


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